‘NBC Nightly News’ continues focus on Clairton Coke Works fires, air quality impacts | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

‘NBC Nightly News’ continues focus on Clairton Coke Works fires, air quality impacts

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U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works as seen from Clairton, Pa., on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.
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U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works as seen from Clairton, Pa., on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.
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U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works as seen from Clairton, Pa., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.

“NBC Nightly News” on Sunday took the story of yet another fire at U.S. Steel’s Clairton plant and continuing community concerns about air quality and potential health risks to a national audience.

“It shouldn’t be something that children have to deal with because of the air,” a tearful mother said during the two-minute broadcast.

NBC visited Clairton Coke Works in May for a tour. Its piece on Sunday also featured a brief comment from Johnie Perryman — who was included in a Tribune-Review report published June 16 which examined a Christmas Eve gas-fueled fire at the Clairton plant, one of three facilities that make up U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works operation, its contribution to air pollution issues and the impact that has on Clairton and surrounding communities.

Last Monday, June 17, a day after the Trib report was published, an electrical fire at the Clairton plant closed three control rooms at the plant — including two that were damaged in the December fire.

The Dec. 24 fire damaged equipment used to clean coke oven gas and caused pollution control systems to be shut down. That equipment remained off line for months.

Starting about two and a half weeks after the fire, the Allegheny County Health Department for months began warning residents of higher than normal levels of sulfur dioxide, or SO2, emanating from the plant.

Pollution controls were back online the same day following last week’s fire. County health officials reported department air quality monitors did not record SO2 emissions that exceeded federal limits. Still, residents continued to worry about potential health risks, particularly for children and other young people but also for seniors and people with other respiratory conditions.

SO2 is a colorless gas that smells like a struck match and causes irritation to the throat, nose and eyes. Young people, the elderly and those with underlying health issues like asthma or cardiac problems are especially vulnerable, but even healthy adults could experience symptoms like headache or difficulty breathing upon exposure.

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